WHITTIER'S "HAMPTON BEACH"
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About the Author
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Hampton Beach Home
Painting of Great Boar's Head, possibly 1860s
by AW Fuller used by permission from "Hampton,
A Century of Town and Beach by Peter E. Randall.
By John Greenleaf Whittier
The sunlight glitters keen and bright,
Where, miles away,
Lies stretching to my dazzled sight,
A luminous belt, a misty light,
Beyond the dark pine bluffs and wastes of sandy gray.
The tremulous shadow of the Sea!
Against its ground
Of silvery light, rock, hill, and tree,
Still as a picture, clear and free,
With varying outline mark the coast for miles around.
On -- on -- we tread with loose-flung rein
Our seaward way,
Through dark-green fields and blossoming grain,
Where the wild brier-rose skirts the lane,
And bends above our heads the flowering locust spray.
Ha ! like a kind hand on my brow
Comes this fresh breeze,
Cooling its dull and feverish glow,
While through my being seems to flow,
The breath of a new life,, - the healing of the seas!
Now rest we, where this grassy mound
His feet bath set
In the great waters, which have bound
His granite ankles greenly round
With long and tangled moss, and weeds with cool spray wet.
Good by to pain and care! I take
Mine ease to-day :
Here where these sunny waters break,
And ripples this keen breeze, I shake
All burdens from the heart, all weary thoughts away.
I draw a freer breath -- I seem
Like all I see --
Waves in the sun -- the white-winged gleam
Of sea-birds in the slanting beam --
And far-off sails which flit before the south-wind free.
So when Time's veil shall fall asunder,
The soul may know
No fearful change, nor sudden wonder,
Nor sink the weight of mystery under,
But with the upward rise, and with the vastness grow.
And all we shrink from now may seem
No new revealing;
Familiar as our childhood's stream,
Or pleasant memory of a dream
The loved and cherished Past upon the new life stealing.
Serene and mild the untried light
May have its dawning;
And, as in summer's northern night
The evening and the dawn unite,
The sunset hues of Time blend with the soul's new morning.
I sit alone ; in foam and spray
Wave after wave
Breaks on the rocks which, stern and gray,
Shoulder the broken tide away,
Or murmers hoarse and strong through mossy cleft and cave.
What heed I of the dusty land
And noisy town?
I see the mighty deep expand
From its white line of glimmering sand
To where the blue of heaven on bluer waves shuts down!
In listless quietude of mind,
I yield to all
The change of cloud and wave and wind
And passive on the flood reclined,
I wander with the waves, and with them rise and fall.
But look, thou dreamer! -- wave and shore
In shadow lie;
The night-wind warns me back once more
To where, my native hilltops o'er,
Bends like an arch of fire glowing sunset sky.
So then, beach, bluff, and wave, farewell !
I bear with me
No token stone nor glittering shell,
But long and oft shall Memory tell
Of this brief thoughtful hour of musing by the Sea.
FROM: Poems of John Greenleaf Whittier, Illustrated, New Revised Edition, Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1879
THE POEM AND THE AUTHOR
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) was raised and schooled in what is now called the "North Shore" area of Massachusetts. He became strongly attached to New Hampshire's nearby seacoast, as this and many other Whittier poems demonstrate. He also spent a great deal of time "among the hills" of northern New Hampshire.
Today Whittier may be best known as an abolitionist, fighting to end slavery with poems like "New Hampshire" (click to read) Though recognized early for his poetry, Whittier made his living mostly as a local newspaper editor and journalist. When fame hit big with his poem "Snow Bound," Whittier was already in his 60s. By the end of the century, his romantic poetry was so popular that his birthday had become a school holiday for children in Massachusetts.
Despite its flowery language, given careful time, the poem "Hampton Beach" still works. Whittier saw the rise of modern manufacturing and its grip on Seacoast life. In this visit to the beach, he discovers that the sea has the power, by its sheer vastness, beauty and hypnotic waves, to counteract the hammering forces of work and progress. He comes away from his short visit restored and energized, just as visitors do today.